Özgür Özel, the newly elected leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), has accused President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of leading a coup against Turkey’s constitutional order over his explicit support for the Supreme Court of Appeals’ refusal to comply with the Constitutional Court’s (AYM) ruling in the case of a jailed lawmaker.
Özel’s accusation comes in the wake of an ongoing judicial crisis, ignited by the case of Can Atalay, an opposition lawmaker from the Workers Party of Turkey (TİP), who filed a petition with the AYM claiming rights violations due to his continued incarceration despite acquiring parliamentary immunity in the May elections.
The AYM ruled in favor of Atalay, but the Supreme Court of Appeals defied this decision, sparking widespread criticism and accusations of a judicial coup.
Erdoğan earlier Friday voiced explicit support for the Supreme Court of Appeals’ defiance of the AYM, signaling a willingness to use the judicial crisis to press ahead with plans to limit the power of the top court.
Speaking at a gathering in support of a march organized by lawyers to protest the Supreme Court of Appeals, Özel harshly criticized President Erdoğan for his role in escalating the judicial crisis.
“Erdoğan is undermining his own legitimacy by disregarding the Constitution,” Özel stated. He warned that the actions of the president and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) are leading to a state without a constitution, a scenario that poses a significant threat to Turkey’s democratic foundations.
Özel argued that what began as a judicial crisis has been transformed into a constitutional crisis under Erdoğan’s leadership.
“Until Erdoğan’s statements, this was a judicial crisis, but now it’s clear that we are facing a coup led by Erdoğan against the constitutional order,” he said. The CHP leader emphasized that the AKP government lacks the majority to amend the constitution, accusing them of ignoring constitutional provisions.
By supporting the defiance of the Constitutional Court, Özel contends that President Erdoğan is effectively attempting to nullify a constitutional provision.
“You don’t have the power to change the constitution, the people didn’t give you that authority. That’s why you are a coup leader,” Özel declared.
Although this is the first time that the judges of the AYM are facing criminal complaints due to a ruling, they are frequently subjected to criticism and sometimes attacks from Erdoğan and his far-right ally, Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli, due to their decisions on politically motivated trials.
The Turkish judiciary faces widespread criticism for its perceived lack of independence. Critics accuse Erdoğan of exerting control over the judiciary and establishing one-man rule in the country, particularly after a coup attempt in 2016, following which he launched a massive crackdown on non-loyalist citizens and the country’s subsequent transition to a presidential system of governance, which granted him vast powers.
Many say there is no longer a separation of powers in the country and that members of the judiciary are under the absolute control of the government and cannot make judgments based on law.
In a development that validated the critics, Turkey was ranked 117th among 142 countries in the rule of law index published by the World Justice Project (WJP) in October, dropping one rank in comparison to last year.